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Spanish language

The Spanish language (Castellano or Español) is the third most spoken language on the planet(probably the fourth-Mandarin,Hindi,English,Spanish....) , spoken by about 352 million persons speakers in 1999 in the seven continents, especially in The Americas. The Spanish name of the language is a political issue. Many Spaniards speaking Spanish call their language español. Most Spaniards speaking other languages call Spanish castellano (Castilian). On the other hand, in some Latin American countries people prefer the word castellano because español is heard more as a nationality than the name of a language. Speakers of English call the language Spanish, whereas to them, Castilian is the dialect spoken in the spanish region of Castile.

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History The Spanish language was developed from vulgar Latin, with influence from Basque and Arabic, in the Iberian Peninsula. Typical features of Spanish diachronical phonology include lenition[?] (Latin VITA, Spanish vida), palatalization[?] (Latin ANNUM, Spanish año) and diphthongation of breve E/O from vulgar Latin (Latin TERRA, Spanish tierra; Latin NOVUS, Spanish nuevo); similar phenomena can be found in most Romance languages as well.

By the 16th century the consonantal system of Castilian Spanish underwent the following important changes that differentiated it from some neighbouring Romance languages, such as Portuguese and Catalan):

  • The initial /f/, that had evolved into a vacillating /h/, was lost in most words (although this etymological h- has been preserved in spelling)
  • The voiced labiodental fricative /v/ (that was written 'u' or 'v') merged with the bilabial oclusive /b/ (written 'b'). Contemporary Spanish written 'b,v' do not correspond to different phonemes.
  • The voiced alveolar fricative /z/ (that was written 's' between vowels) merged with the voiceless /s/ (that was written 's', or 'ss' between vowels), now written 's' everywhere.
  • Voiced alveolar affricate /dz/ (that was written 'z') merged with the voiceless /ts/ (that was written 'ç,ce,ci'), and then /ts/ evolved into the interdental /T/, now written 'z,ce,ci'. But in Andalusia, the Canary Islands and the Americas these sounds merged with /s/ as well. Notice that the 'ç' or 'cedilla' was in its origin a Spanish letter.
  • The voiced palatal fricative /Z/ (that was written 'j,ge,gi') merged with the voiceless /S/ (that was written 'x', as in 'Quixote'), and then /S/ evolved by the 17th century into the modern velar sound /x/, now written 'j,ge,gi'.

The consonantal system of Medieval Spanish has been better preserved in Judaeo-Spanish, the language spoken by the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in the 15th century.

The Spanish in the World Spanish is an official language of the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations. Also, Spanish is an official language (and the most important language) in 20 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela .

Spanish is also spoken in Andorra, Belize, Canada, Gibraltar, Israel, Morocco, Netherlands Antilles, Philippines, United States of America, Trinidad and Tobago and Western Sahara.

There are important variations in dialect among the various regions of Spain and Spanish America. In Spain the North Castilian dialect pronunciation is commonly taken as the national standard (although the characteristic weak pronouns usage or laismo of this dialect is deprecated).

In the Americas, the first Spaniards to settle brought some of their regionalisms with them. Today you can find distinct accents in different nations of Spanish speaking America. Typical of Latin America is seseo. The European Castilian phoneme /T/ (interdental voiceless fricative, SAMPA phonetic scheme used) (as in ciento, caza) does not exist in American Castilian, it fell together with /s/ (as in ser, casa).

Traditionally Spanish had a phoneme /L/, a palatal lateral, written ll. It was lost in most of the Americas (with the exception of bilingual areas of Quechua and other indigenous languages that have this sound in their inventories), but now it is also being lost in Spain (also with the exception of bilingual areas of Catalan and other languages that have preserved this sound in their inventories). Now this phoneme is merged with /j/ in most of the Spanish speaking areas. This phenomenon is called yeismo. In Argentina, /j/ and /L/ are generally pronounced as /Z/ (palatal voiced fricative) as in French 'jour'. This phenomenon is called žeismo.

Many people think that Spanish is regulated by the RAE (Real Academia Española). Actually, languages cannot be regulated, but RAE, in association with twenty-one other national language academies, exercises a conservative influence through its publication of dictionaries and widely respected grammar guides and style guides.

Phonemes of Spanish Since Spanish has many allophones it is important here to differentiate between phonemes (written here between slashes) and allophones (between brackets).

(SAMPA phonetic scheme used)


/p/ bilabial, voiceless. Spelled "p".

/b/ bilabial, voiced; it has two allophones [b] and [B]. Spelled "b" or "v". [b] appears initially or after nasals, [B] elsewhere.

/t/ dental, voiceless. Spelled "t".

/d/ dental, voiced; it has two allophones [d] and [D]. Spelled "d". [d] appears initially or after nasals, [D] elsewhere.

/k/ velar, voiceless. Spelled "c" (casa), "qu" (queso), "k" (kiosko).

/g/ velar, voiced; it has two allophones [g] and [G]. Spelled "g" (gato), "gu" (guerra). [g] appears initially or after nasals, [G] elsewhere.


/s/ In Spain it's apical. In Latin America it is sibilant. In Latin America also "z" (zorro) or "c" (cielo). In Spain it also has a [T] allophone. Spelled "s" (sapo) and sometimes "x" (auxilio). See below.

/T/ In Latin America the /s/ phoneme takes its place. Spelled "z" (zorro) or "c" (cielo).

/f/ Spelled "f".

/x/ has allophones [h], [C], [x] in South America. Spelled "j" (jarro), "g" (general).


/tS/ is pronounced as a plosive in European Spanish, something like [t_j]. In South American Spanish, on the other hand, there are mainly [tS] or [S] pronunciations - like French /S/ that has also developed from /tS/. Spelled "ch".


/m/ Spelled "m".

/n/ with several allophones. [N] before /k, g, x, w/ (un queso, un gato, un jarro, un huevo); [F] before /f/ (un faro); [m] before /m, p, b/ (un mono, un perro, un burro). Spelled "n" (nadie, tengo) or "m" (empezar).

/J/ Spelled "ñ", the most characteristic grapheme of Spanish language.


/l/ Spelled "l".

/L/ Spelled "ll". This phoneme is almost extinct and /j/ has taken its place. /L/ survives in areas of bilingualism with Catalan, Quechua, or other languages that have preserved this phoneme in their inventories (like some places of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, etc).


/r/ Simple alveolar flap. 'r' in all positions but word initial.

/rr/ Multiple alveolar trill. Word initial 'r' (ratón); 'rr' between vowels (cerro). Minimal pair: pero /'pero/ (but) - perro /'perro/ (dog).


/j/ In Argentina, Uruguay and Chile it has a [Z] or [dZ] sound. Spelled "y" (yo), "hi" (hielo); in many places also "ll". See /L/ above.

/w/ Spelled "u" (guardia), "ü" (averigüe), "w" (whisky), "hu" (huevo).


/a/ - /e/ - /i/ - /o/ - /u/ are close to their pronunciation in Italian.

Written Spanish precedes exclamatory and interrogative clauses with inverted question and exclamation marks, examples: ¿Qué dices? (What do you mean?) ¡No es verdad! (That's not true!). It is one of the few languages whose written form does so.

Spanish is nicknamed la lengua de Cervantes (the language of Cervantes, the author of the Quixote).

Some common phrases

  • Spanish: castellano /kaste'Lano/ (kass-ta-LYA-naw); español /espa'Jol/ (ess-pahn-YOHL)
  • hello: hola /'ola/ (OH-la)
  • good-bye: adiós /a'djos/ (ah-THYOHS)
  • please: por favor /por fa'bor/ (pour fah-VOAR)
  • thank you: gracias /'graTjas/ (GRAHSS-yahss)
  • sorry: perdón /per'don/
  • that one: ése /'ese/ (EH-seh) (masculine); ésa /'esa/ (EH-sah) (feminine)
  • how much?: ¿cuánto? /'kwanto/ (KWAHN-taw)
  • English: inglés /in'gles/ (ing-GLESS)
  • yes: /'si/ (see)
  • no: no /'no/ (no)
  • sorry: perdón /per'don/
  • I don't understand: No comprendo /'no kon'prendo/
  • where's the bathroom?: ¿Dónde está el baño? /'donde es'ta el 'baJo/ (DON day esTAH el BA-nyaw)
  • generic toast: salud /sa'lud/ (sah-LOOTHE)
  • Do you speak English?: ¿Habla usted inglés? /'abla us'ted in'gles/ (AH blah oos TED ing-GLESS)

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